October 1, 2013 10:12:24 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Bigger, stronger faster.
This is the checklist of things that had to happen for the Mississippi State defensive system under coordinator Geoff Collins.
Through four weeks of the season: check, check, check
Normally when LSU week comes up for the MSU program, the defensive advantage isn't with the maroon and white. During the stretch where LSU (4-1, 1-1 in Southeastern Conference) have won 13 straight and 20 of last 21 against MSU (2-2, 0-1), it's been mostly because the Tigers have been the more experienced and superior defensive team in terms of both scheme and talent.
"I think we're all about following and attacking the football right now because there's no moment of not knowing what to do," MSU senior defensive end Denico Autry said. "We're really confident as a defense right now."
In the 2013 season, Collins' havoc style of aggressive defense has the Bulldogs coming into the weekend with the second-best total defense in the Southeastern Conference. Through four games, MSU's more aggressive blitzing have produced the league's third-best passing defense thanks to being on pace for more quarterback hurries, quarterback sacks and tackles for loss.
After giving up 30 or more points in five of their last six games of the 2012 season, MSU head coach Dan Mullen decided to make a change at the leadership of the defense. Fans, pundits and players were getting frustrated with the style of Chris Wilson and during the 2013 Gator Bowl against Northwestern, Mullen decided to give the play calling duties to Collins, who was the co-coordinator at the time. All throughout spring camp Mullen dismissed the change from Collins to the then-departed Wilson wouldn't be much of a difference but that assumption has been proven to be inaccurate in terms of scheme.
"I think in the past we may have been split up in three or four different meeting rooms but now we're all together going over things and it shows in our team chemistry as a unit," Collins said. "We've all embraced the juice and the mayhem I've tried to bring here."
In his first game as the primary defensive coordinator, Collins was caught off guard in a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State by what he called "a untraditional offense" that used the quarterback running through a shotgun wishbone formation.
"I thought what they wanted to run for the first 25 minutes was being handled by our smart kids," Collins said after the loss in Houston. "We made an adjustment at halftime and they changed a bit and by the fourth quarter we were stoning them. Just one of those things where they brought a unique thing to the field."
The last game for the Bulldogs defined the difference for the MSU defensive intensity and look. After being puzzled by Troy's zone-option offense last year, especially in the pass game, MSU held Troy quarterback Corey Robinson to a career low 105 yards passing in a 62-7 victory at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I think what Coach Collins has brought is a sense of excitement and juice to our practices, our meeting sessions and our preparation," Mississippi State senior linebacker Deontae Skinner said. "
The thought was Collins was inheriting youth in the secondary but he's transformed that unit through significant injuries to a deep and talented group of cornerbacks.
The first drive of the game where MSU turned an effective Troy drive into a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jamerson Love. Love's score is the first of his career and 11th interception returned for a touchdown for MSU under Mullen. In two home games this season, the MSU defense has caused a turnover on the first drive in each of the contests.
"I think with youth brings that enthusiasm to compete not only against a opponent but competing for minutes," Collins said.
With all the aggressive blitzes and man coverage that Collins has been known for playing, it would be a safe assumption that big plays for the offense would be a giant fear. However, MSU has only allowed seven plays over 20 yards this season and just one that went for a touchdown as cornerback Justin Cox fell down twice on a long touchdown strike at Auburn.
"We know we have to play smart but part of being aggressive is being confusing when you line up in front of a offense," MSU redshirt freshman Cedric Jiles said Tuesday.
In a era of dominate offenses of the SEC, MSU is trying to prove to the top ranked programs of the Western Division that seeing the Bulldogs on the schedule will be a frustrating experience to put points on the board.
MSU will face one of the league's most prolific passing attacks led by LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger, with a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron, finished for a career-best 372 yards on 23-of-37 passes with three touchdowns. In 5 games, Mettenberger has tossed 13 touchdown passes, one more than he threw in 13 games a year ago. His 13 touchdown passes rank second in the Southeastern Conferences and seventh nationally.
"He's sure playing with a poise right now and not panicking in the pocket," Collins said. "You can see him developing more as a complete quarterback."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.